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Barron's Booknotes-Beowulf-Free Chapter Summary Synopsis
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VERSE 31

Beowulf ends his speech to Higlac with an avowal of loyalty to his king. "I have almost no family,/Higlac," he says, "almost no one, now, but you" (2150-51). Describing his adventures in Denmark, he was careful not to praise Hrothgar too highly for fear, perhaps, of offending Higlac. Now he's saying, as a way of reassuring the Geat king, that despite his feelings for Hrothgar he has remained faithful to the Geats. Everything he did in Denmark was to bring honor and glory to his homeland.

Beowulf presents Higlac with his treasures. The poet's brief commentary on Beowulf's character gives us an indication of the feelings of paranoia that pervaded the minds of people in the Anglo-Saxon world:

Beowulf had brought his king Horses and treasure-as a man must, Not weaving nets of malice for his comrades, Preparing their death in the dark, with secret, Cunning tricks.

(2165-69)


Treachery, malice, hatred-all these are the expected ways of behaving. To act selflessly, and to perform heroically for the sake of one's country, was obviously rare. No wonder Hrothgar loved Beowulf so much.

The poet gives us a brief summary of Beowulf's childhood: how he'd been scorned by his fellow Geats who "were sure he was lazy, noble but slow." It's possible that Beowulf's motivation to become a great warrior was to prove himself to the people who'd scorned him when he was younger. The need for respect from our friends and peers is a universal feeling, and certainly one we can all identify with.

This verse marks the transition between Beowulf's youth and his old age. After Higlac dies and his son Herdred is killed in battle with the Swedes, Beowulf takes the throne and rules over the Geat kingdom for fifty years.

NOTE:

The poet tells us little about what occurred during Beowulf's reign except to say that he held the throne "long and well." Why do you think the poet spends only a few lines describing Beowulf's fifty-year reign, and almost three verses recounting his exploits in Denmark? Remember that an epic poem usually concentrates on a few important events in a person's life, rather than attempting to portray an entire life from beginning to end.

At the end of his life we learn that a new challenge has presented itself to Beowulf. Geatland is being terrorized by a fire-breathing dragon who was awakened when a thief entered his castle and stole a jeweled cup from his treasure-hoard. The dragon wreaks havoc on the Geats in much the same way Grendel terrorized the Danes. It's up to Beowulf as king to protect his people, and the second part of the poem will be dominated by this final conflict.

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